Maintenance, Smart Home
The Housing Ombudsman, Richard Blakeway, has urged social landlords to renew their focus on damp and mould and act on the recommendations set out in his Spotlight report published last year.
The report, ‘It’s not lifestyle’, addressed the common misconception that social housing tenants’ lifestyle choices are to blame for the onset of damp and mould in properties.
Within the 2021 report, when discussing damp and mould, the Ombudsman said he hoped the word ‘lifestyle’ would be “banished” from vernacular in social housing. Landlords were also encouraged to be proactive in identifying homes that have or may be at risk of developing problems rather than putting the onus on residents to report an issue. This followed guidelines outlined in the Charter for Social Housing white paper, where further pressure was placed on housing providers to offer high quality, safe homes in good repair – including tackling any complaints of damp fast and efficiently.
However, the 2020-21 English Housing Survey recorded 5 per cent of social housing properties had a damp problem. Serious condensation and mould problems were also identified in at least one room in 133,000 of all social sector homes. In response, the Housing Ombudsman is now calling for the Decent Homes Standard to be strengthened to include damp and mould, and for the whole housing sector to treat it as a critical safety issue.
Cold temperatures can cause a myriad of problems within social homes, from burst pipes to structural damage, but more commonly, damp and mould.
Under‑heated rooms that suffer from an excess of moisture are particularly favourable to mould, such as bathrooms and kitchens, where everyday activities like cooking, showering, drying clothes and even breathing, create moisture which can lead to condensation.
Without the right tools or ventilation in place, these factors can quickly lead to the presence of damp and mould. Damp living conditions can lead to serious health implications, with asthma sufferers especially at risk due to mould spores triggering symptoms. But the elderly, the very young and anyone who is immuno‑compromised are also at risk of health complications.
Alongside health complications, mould and damp problems also pose considerable cost implications to housing associations. Remedial fixes for small condensation issues can be high, with estimated damage to a property’s paint and plasterwork costing around £700 per property. This can often be followed by more expensive improvements to combat the cause of condensation, damp and mould in a property.
However by acting early, housing providers can stop costs escalating. Damp is less likely to become an expensive headache to fix, and with better living conditions, tenants will feel more comfortable and safer in their home environment.
In the ‘It’s not lifestyle’ spotlight report, the Housing Ombudsman recognised tackling the problem is a daily challenge and outlined 26 recommendations for landlords to implement.
One of these recommendations is to use a “data driven, risk-based approach with respect to damp and mould. This will reduce over reliance on residents to report issues, help landlords identify hidden issues and support landlords to anticipate and prioritise interventions before a complaint or disrepair claim is made.”
There are a variety of new solutions available that enable housing providers to take a data driven approach to monitoring humidity and temperature levels in a property to proactively tackle condensation, damp and mould. By utilising the IoT sensors in residents’ homes, it can provide real‑time data on a property environment, enabling early interventions to pre‑empt a problem getting any worse.
As social landlords face mounting pressure to address various complex challenges from managing strategic partnership deals to decarbonisation and cuts to Universal Credit, many will feel they rarely have time to exclusively focus on their core client – their tenants. Technology can help shoulder some of the responsibility, for example, by utilising IoT sensors in residents’ homes, landlords can receive real time data on a property environment, enabling early interventions to pre empt a problem getting any worse, saving cost and time later down the line, and most importantly, keeping tenants protected.
FireAngel’s Home Environment Gateway enables social housing landlords to offer a higher level of protection and prevention measures. The gateway is ceiling mounted, occupying the same footprint of a smoke alarm, and can also be integrated with Grade D1 alarms, so no additional wiring is required.
The Home Environment Gateway incorporates temperature and humidity sensors as a standard to monitor the two principal indicators for damp and mould in properties. Additionally, this gateway provides for inclusion of third‑party Zigbee enabled devices allowing a landlord to create bespoke networks.
All data gathered is uploaded to the FireAngel Connected cloud platform, where it can be processed to provide insight on the most vulnerable tenants and properties. Whilst Connected offers substantial insight via its dashboard, it also deploys open-source API code which allows full integration with a landlord’s database if required.
FireAngel’s FA3328-EUT 10 Year Temperature and Humidity Sensor with Carbon Monoxide Alarm provides a rapid response to CO levels in a property and offers a low-cost information gathering source on environmental conditions through Sync-It™ (NFC Technology).
Using the FireAngel Installer mobile app, users can hold a phone against the FA3328-EUT device to receive quick, quiet and contactless data extraction to securely transfer and store logged property temperature and humidity recordings, helping landlords to identify those most at risk.